Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Our Flag

Standing here so close to you,
It seems that I am seeing you
For the first time.
Yet, I cannot remember
The first time I ever saw you,
Though I remember quite well
The first time I ever touched you.
It was the Fourth of July.
I paid a dime for you.
I did not know then
That you could not be bought
But that men would give for you
All that they had—Even their lives.
I did not know
That what I held in my hand
Was not you;
No one told me.
But, of course,
Those things can’t be told;
Each person must learn them
For himself.
I did not know that you had
A heart that could feel,
A mind that could think,
And a body that could work;

But I know you now
For what you are
I’ve learned my lesson.

You are a mother
Waiting for a word from her son,
And the word never comes.
You are a father
Working patiently,
Hoping for a better day,
A better world—Tomorrow.
You are proud young men
With light and laughter
In their voices.
You are the hands of young women
Roughened and hardened by work.
You are a mother
Holding her first born
Tenderly close to her breast,
And wearing a Distinguished Service Cross
And a Purple Heart
Pinned on her dress.
You are the boys and girls
Offering their pledge to you
In the school houses of America.
You are men and women
Of every language, of every color,
Of every creed.
Going to the church of their choice
On Sunday morning.
You are the noise of the busy city;
The peace of the country side
At the twilight hour,
You are all of these
And something more:
You are Truth,
And Truth is Freedom;
“You shall know the Truth,” he said,
“And the Truth shall make you free.”

Yes, I know you now;
I can see you clearly;
You have changed.
You are not new and stiff and shiny
As you were on that summer day
So long ago.

You are stained with tears;
You are dirty with sweat;
You are torn and bleeding,
But you have wept before;
You have toiled before;
You have bled before,
And I know in my heart
That when this that is upon us
Shall have passed away
You will still in Freedom be flying
Over a people born to be free.

* Historical Information*

On a misty, foggy, Sunday afternoon, in the month of January, 1944, the late U.S. Senator, Robert S. Kerr, at that time Governor of Oklahoma, members of the American Legion, and I were seated on the Atoka, Oklahoma High School stage waiting to begin the memorial service honoring the young men of Atoka County who had given, in the Second World War, “...even their lives.”

It was 2:30 o’clock p.m.…time to start the service; still we waited. I was neither anxious nor impatient; I had been asked by the Commander of the American Legion to say something about the Flag, and I knew what I wanted to say, so I had not bothered to make a copy of it. A little later, the audience became quiet; when I looked toward the entrance of the auditorium, I understood why. Walking down the aisle toward the front were the families of the young men for whom the service had been planned. Suddenly, I felt that I could not stand, face those people, and say what I had decided to say. At that moment, with a shock, I realized that I did not remember a thing I had intended to say; I thought of leaving the building by the stage exit, but I could not do that when I remembered the young men and their families who had no avenue of escape.

When my name was called, I walked to the front of the stage, and for a long moment looked at the Flag standing close by...Then I heard myself saying, for the first time, the lines of “Our Flag” that have been repeated countless times since that misty, foggy Sunday afternoon in the month of January 1944.

I wondered—could Governor Kerr have been right when he said to the audience, “I came here from Oklahoma City to give the memorial services, but there is nothing left to say; the few lines you have just heard have said it all…for all time…for all people…

—Grace R. Stewart

No comments: